Bone marrow registry faces challenges amid coronavirus outbreak

Posted at 4:11 PM, Mar 23, 2020

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The canceling of public events and functions is also creating challenges for some life-saving organizations. We know the American Red Cross is seeing fewer blood donations due to driving cancellations. Gift of Life, a bone marrow registry is also having to recruit donors for blood cancer patients in a different way.

Normally would see swab kits at Gift of Life bone marrow drives, but due to the coronavirus, those events have been canceled leaving the marrow registry to ramp up its efforts to get donors to sign up online.

Sherry Lenehan traveled more than a thousand miles from Ohio to Boca Raton to save the life of someone she’s never met.

“It makes me feel great. It really does,” said Lenehan.

Seventeen years ago, Lenehan signed up to donate bone marrow during a drive for a co-worker diagnosed with blood cancer who was looking for a donor. This year she finally got the call. She is a match for someone at a time where a global pandemic is affecting how those life-saving stem cells get transported to recipients.

“For a lot of these patients the reality is if you do wait they are going to relapse and getting them back into remission so that they can be in a state for the transplant is that much harder,” said Jay Feinberg, Founder, and CEO of Gift of Life.

Gift of Life facilities are now collecting stem cells to take the burden off hospitals. But the challenges keep coming. With commercial airlines cutting back on flights, Gift of Life is also having to get creative when it comes to finding couriers to deliver stem cells to where patients are.

The American Red Cross says coronavirus is also having an effect on blood supply nationwide. So far 4500 blood drives across the country have canceled, leading to 150,000 fewer blood donations. Brandon Lee of Nebraska is a frequent blood donor, but this week he traveled to Boca Raton to donate his stem cells after getting the call that he is a match for a blood cancer patient.

“I regularly donated blood in Nebraska and I think it’s very important and just because there’s a virus going around there are still people with leukemia that still need help, that still need treatment,” said Lee.

A year ago Scott Novorr in Kansas, a father of four was on the receiving end waiting for his bone marrow match.

“Unfortunately, I have a rare strand in my DNA which made finding a donor extremely difficult, really a needle in a haystack,” said Novorr via a video call.

And without knowing it, another father of four in New Jersey made all the difference.

“It’s really the most selfless act that you can imagine,” said Novorr.

Gift of Life is actively looking for ways to transport stem cells through donated flights. To learn how you can help or if you’d like to sign up for the bone marrow registry, click here.